Remembering a potential superstar, and a gentleman

Formula 1 editor Jonathan Noble reflects on the life and times of Jules Bianchi, who passed away today.

It was the news that everyone in Formula 1 feared would come one day, but that still did not lessen the sense of shock when it arrived.

Jules Bianchi's death, as a result of the injuries he suffered in last year's Japanese Grand Prix, has hit hard with everybody involved in motorsport.

The passing of any driver is sad, but what hurts the most right now is that Bianchi was truly one of F1's good men. The adage that nice guys finish last did not ring true with the Frenchman.

He was a driver who had the right balance of speed on the track and perfect manners off it, for Bianchi was friends with everyone.

Always polite; always with a smile on his face, Bianchi put a lie to the claim that you needed to be completely ruthless if you were going to make a success of a career in F1.

But do not imagine for a second that the friendly guy we all got to know was not ultra competitive or totally focused on getting to the very top.

That Monaco brilliance

His points-scoring result at last year's Monaco Grand Prix was not simply the result of touring around and picking up the pieces of other's misfortune. It was a top class drive that included a brilliant and bolshy overtaking move of Kamui Kobayashi at Rascasse.

You only needed to spend a bit of time with Bianchi to understand that he was a man driven to be the best.

I fondly remember (and cheekily never let him forget) about a head-to-head reaction competition that the pair of us took part in shortly before he got his big break in F1.

We were present at a media event in Abu Dhabi aimed at showcasing racing driver skills, and part of the programme involved testing reaction times.

A computer was set-up with two thumb controllers, which we had to click as quickly as possible as soon as a simulated starting green light appeared on a computer screen.

It was best out of 10, and the first time through against Bianchi I comfortably won – clearly with my reaction times have been honed from playing too many computer games as a kid than any pretence of being a better driver.

Jules's competitive spirit meant he could not accept not winning, so he demanded a rematch. The result was the same, so he asked we go again. And when he still did not win, we went again, and again. And again.

In the end, amid much laughter – and ribbing from his training staff – he conceded that this was a game he was not going to win. And frequently, whenever I saw him after that, we would have a joke about how quick my thumbs were. 

But when it came to driving racing cars fast, I knew he was streets ahead.

"Ferrari knew how good he was"

Bianchi's speed behind the wheel was never in doubt. In the modern world, where it is so hard for a new driver to make an impression, he knuckled down and quietly got on impressing at Marussia.

Ferrari well knew just how good he was, and it was pretty clear before that Suzuka race that it had become time for him to move on from his apprenticeship.

A move to Sauber for 2015 was on the cards; and how we would have loved to have seen him fighting for the points – and even more – with that improved Ferrari engine this year.

Where would those performances have left this year's driver market, the so-called ‘silly season’, too?

We will sadly never know just what he could have achieved, but that does not dampen the impact that Bianchi has had on all of us.

We will remember the victories in his junior career. We will remember that brilliant afternoon at Monaco. We will remember the laughs.

But most of all, we will remember what a true gentleman he was.

F1 is a poorer place without him.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jules Bianchi
Article type Commentary